Marian Mott, librarian to the geriatrically overburdened, opened her eyes really wide and tried to stay awake. On the other side of the counter, wizened Lester Limehouse was imparting to her the genealogy of his nephew Lenny's mother's family, who, as far as she could tell, had never done anything of consequence except have children; and from what she knew of Lenny, she thought possibly they should have been prevented from doing that.
Lester was a lovely old man, she was sure (or maybe not, who could tell at this point)…..but he spoke so slowly…..and had nothing to say in any case…..Actually, Marian might not have had to worry about keeping her eyes open; she was pretty sure she was just a blur through his cataracts, anyway. But if someone else had happened to see her sleeping…..and shouted it into his hearing aid later…….well, he was on the library board, don't you know? He just came in to use the bathroom and flirt with the two blurs behind the counter, but at least he knew where the bathroom was. He was the only one on the board who had ever actually entered the library.
When he finally shuffled out the door, she let her head drop down and hit the counter. That pain woke her up a little.
"Thank you so much, dear Henrietta," she said scathingly. "You might have helped me out a little there. Said "Oh, really," once in a while, or "Imagine that!" or something."
There was a genteel snore in response. Henrietta was propped up against the cataloging computer, her eyes were shut, her mouth was open.
"Really," Marian said crossly, "this is too much." She shook Henny; a little roughly, I'm sorry to say.
When Henny opened her eyes, Marian said, "Go home. You're just useless."
Henny blinked. "But it's only 5:00. It's not closing time yet."
"You can come in early tomorrow."
"No, I'm going to see my mother in the nursing home tomorrow before I come in---"
"You can see her on your break."
"Then I won't get any lunch---"
"You'll figure something out! Just go home! I'll lock up."
Henny looked concerned. "Are you OK?"
"Of course. I've just spent two hours listening to a riveting account of Lenny Limehouse's grandmother's emboli. Why wouldn't I be OK?"
Henny allowed herself to be pushed out the door. Before Marian closed, she finished up the list she'd started before good ol' Lester came in, of books that were overdue three months or more, and looked them over.
"Alzheimer's and You: An Experiential Overview, by Ima Fule," she muttered. "I didn't even get to see that one."
She looked down the list. "Alzheimer's for the Layman, by Gooden Smartt. The Truth About Alzheimer's (and How to Ignore it) by Allis Sweet. These were all brand new books! How come these people can't remember to bring the damn books back?"
She threw the list down in disgust, and sank heavily into her chair. A tear slipped down her cheek. Then another one.
"You wait," she muttered to herself. "The next time he comes in, the old fart's gonna ask me to go to Bingo with him. On a date. You wait." She snuffled and wiped her nose with the hankie she always kept in her bra. "I can't believe I turned down a chance to go to Brazil, to stay here." She looked darkly at the rows of dusty bookshelves, and reached for the ring of keys hanging next to the Environmental Control.
Her sea captain had pleaded with her to run away with him on his mission below the Equator. "How will I live without you in my arms, in my bed?" he'd asked.
"I don't know," she'd replied. "But I'm needed here. I have a duty to the community."
"I understand," he'd said sadly. "I know I come in a poor second to your sense of honor and responsibility. Just know that you will always be first in my heart."
She sighed. Right now, duty and responsibility made her want to throw up. But she'd have to clean it up herself, so she didn't.
She locked the front doors, outside, inside, and then went to the back, to lock the outside door there. Some idiot might try to come in just because the sign said they were open until 6:00.
Just as she was about to put the key in the lock, the door was flung open and a whirlwind in a long coat gusted in. He grabbed the keys out of her hand, locked the door, threw the keys aside, grabbed Marian around the waist and backed them both up against the interior wall of the entryway before Marian even had chance to protest.
"Now you be quiet, girlie, and everything'll work out fine," the dervish said, in an odd accent.
Number one, Marian didn't appreciate being told to be quiet in her own library.
Number two,……. girlie?
Number three, his coat smelled like something died in the pockets.
Number four, Lester Limehouse all afternoon.
Still, what followed was mostly reflex…….
He grabbed her by the wrist to swing her around and through the inside door; she reached out with her other hand, snatched up the solid oak donation box for the used book sales, and smashed it against the side of his head without even thinking about it.
He dropped like a rock. Figuratively speaking. A rock would have made a thwack when it hit the faux flagstones on the floor. The noise he made was more of a muffled schlump, and then a small dull thud as his head made contact.
He lay there with his eyes closed for several seconds.
"All right," Marian said sternly. "You may stop feigning unconsciousness. You're not fooling anyone."
He lay still as a stone; unmoving, except of course for the rise and fall of his chest underneath that nasty black coat---odd how these sedimentary comparisons kept popping into her head when she looked at him.
He ignored her.
She kicked the bottom of one of the huge boots he was wearing---Good Lord, look at the size of them!---with her own dainty footwear. No reaction.
She did it again, harder. "I'm going to count to three! One………Two……."
Oh, the hell with it, who did she think she was kidding? He was out.
Drat. Actual unconsciousness on his part was going to be extremely inconvenient for Marian. And it occurred to her that she might get into trouble for this. The library board had given her a printed list of guidelines concerning desirable staff behavior. (Who do you suppose that was aimed at?) Bashing potential patrons on the head was not on the list. And she was already in trouble because of the duct tape thing.
Well, she couldn't leave him out here in the entryway. She bent over, grasped his coat firmly by the shoulders, and pulled……..he was heavier than he looked. It was probably those stupid boots. They looked like they weighed a ton. And it took forever to untie the incredibly long laces each one had, but at last she pulled them off……and held her nose while she stripped the socks off too and tossed them toward the door.
It wasn't just his boots that were huge. She'd half expected to find the boots were stuffed with socks---she knew some men were vain about that sort of thing---but there was no padding here. She took a moment just to appreciate the fat…..toes, and high….instep; the admirable length. She sighed. And then coughed. Those socks needed to be burned.
She got a good grip on the lapels of his coat and heaved. He moved about six inches before her hands slipped off the wool of his coat, and she landed on her….ahem….derrierre.
There are some words a lady is not supposed to even have heard, much less know how to pronounce, much less know what they mean. Well, Marian didn't know what they all meant, but she'd heard them from a couple of men in black leather jackets with spikes sticking up out of their heads, so she assumed they were bad, and not…..Hebrew or something. It surprised her how satisfying it was to mutter them, Hebrew or not. You will have to excuse her if she shouted one or two, just to see how it felt.
It felt good, actually.
His coat had fallen open; he didn't have a shirt on, just suspenders. His chest was bare….except for the pictures. Marian just stared for a minute. Hmm. She hadn't really paid any attention to what he looked like. She hadn't noticed the word written across his neck, or the big black inky-looking designs on his skin. She rubbed one, expecting to see black on her finger tips, but it didn't come off.
She realized he wasn't following the dress code for library patrons. It's a fact that it's really hard to make unconscious men comply with the rules……she was not going to put those boots back on him……She stood up, tore the sign off the window that said, "No shirt, no shoes….etc." and threw it in the trash.
OK. Maybe she could do better if she held on to his suspenders instead of that coat. She tried that, but for some reason he didn't budge at all. The fact that her back was starting to hurt might have had something to do with the decision to get down on her knees. She grabbed the suspenders, backed up a little…heaved…..and he moved a few inches. The next time, he moved a few more inches. Little by little, she got him inside.
When the inside door was locked, she looked down on him, trying to figure out what to do with him now. He was a strange looking fellow. Besides the pictures all over him, most of his hair was gone. The stubble on his face and the stubble on his head were about the same length. But long, long eyelashes………
He had to be a hoodlum of some sort. Nasty and mean, probably. He had probably meant to kidnap her, or something.
Thinking about what the "something" might have been made her lick her lips and shiver a little bit, while she studied him.
A phrase she had heard somewhere popped into her head. "Terrible beauty." He was horrible looking, scary…..but beautiful, too. Those lashes. That mouth. Attractive…..in a disturbing sort of way.
A pair of bicycles clattered by in the back and she realized his lovely feet would be visible if someone looked in. So, still on her knees, she got hold of his suspenders again, this time letting her fingers graze his skin as she did it. Warm, and so soft…..and until he woke up, he was all hers……
She shook herself. Mooning over an unconscious man on the floor was a little beneath her dignity as head librarian. What if she were seen? She needed to get him completely out of sight…..before she went back to mooning.
She hitched up her skirt and tried again. No getting sidetracked, she told herself sternly. She grabbed the waistband of his pants and heaved. He moved a little. She backed up, on her knees, and pulled as hard as she could. He slid this time, until his shoulders hit her knees.
She was exhausted. Couldn't move. On the floor, on her hands and knees, cause she couldn't move.
This was ridiculous. What was she thinking? She was too old for this. She should have just called the police immediately, but no, she had to bring him inside, and what did she think she was going to do with him? So now she was straddling an unconscious man's head while she tried to get her strength back enough to move.
He stirred. "Bloody hell---" he mumbled. She realized suddenly what he was looking at…..as he threw her off.
He was fast. Before you could say "Bob's yer uncle" she was on her back, his arm across her collar bone, ready to strangle her if necessary; he was holding her down with his body.
"Ain't every die a bloke wikes up with a sheila's mick in 'is fice."
OK, she thought, whatever you say.
"You the one 'at bashed me?"
She couldn't be entirely certain that's what he said, but she nodded anyway. She was speechless, mostly because of the fact that she couldn't breathe. She hoped if she turned purple, he'd notice.
Worried about dying from lack of air…..but entranced too. Hoodlum asleep had been attractive. Hoodlum awake was devastating.
He was Lucifer, once the brightest and most beautiful, now grace transmuted, perverted and dark, but compelling…….The angel who relished the darkness, who reveled in his fall……….
He lifted his arm from her chest, and she took a deep breath……and started to cough. "Do you have a dead weasel in your coat?" she said. "Good Lord."
The coughing got his attention. He looked at the place where their chests met, and swore. "Look at that set!" he said, and smiled. Evil, she thought, but she didn't look away. "Not just nubbies, these, are they?"
He massaged what he was looking at, with one hand. The other hand was in her hair, fingers wound around the strands, holding her down. "Lucky, in'it? Running in here, you waiting for me with a pair like this. Ain't gonna get bored, am I?"
Breathlessly, she said, "Get that Godawful thing away from me. I'm about to suffocate." She shoved against his shoulder, a futile exercise in bravado.
In response, he smiled and ground his zipper against her. "Suits me right here," he said. He tilted his head to the side, and asked her, "Ya scared?"
Strange. Now she thought about it……"No. Not really. I find it difficult to be frightened when I can't take a breath due to the stench." God, she'd thought the smell of the sea was bad. At least most of that had gone with the captain's boots out the door. This misama was overpowering.
His smile could be mistaken for sweet, if she wasn't already convinced of his lack of compassion or decency either one. "You keep goin' on about m'coat. Want me to tike it off then, do ya? In't that just like you old sheilas? Desperate-like."
If she'd known for sure what he was saying, she might have gotten angry, but he sat up just at that moment, straddling her hips, and removed the offensive garment, tossing it away.
"Let's see wot's in here, then," he said, and he pulled open her blouse, not bothering with the buttons. She was really glad she'd worn one of her new up-lift bras, instead of one with the worn-out elastic. Attractive underwear is a must, if you work in a library. She'd discovered that through experience.
Then she wasn't so glad. He got out his switch-blade, flipped it open and slipped it between her breasts…..and cut her brand new bra in half in the front!
Marian's mouth fell open. "Look what you've done, you oaf! There was a clasp, right there in front of your face!" She balled up her fist, and hit him on the jaw as hard as she could. It snapped his head around, but that was all. He slowly turned his gaze back toward her, and they stared at each other for a minute.
That might have been a mistake on her part.
He exhaled. "Don't do that again. See? Ya get once," he said quietly, pulling her bra apart and looking at what it had held, "'Cause a' yer pretty tatts. That's all."
Marian understood perfectly, accent or no. The next time she wanted to hit him, she'd have to knock him out or forget about it.
Of course, technically speaking, this was the second time, not the first……she'd already done it more than once…….the urge to let him know his mistake was strong, but she stifled it.
He settled himself back down on her, bare skin against bare skin; his knees between her legs, one of his hands pulling her skirt up her thigh. "Now……what d'ya think we should do, while I'm waitin' for the heat to die down out there?" He smiled again.
An excellent question. There were several options. She thought about it. It was difficult to concentrate, because he wouldn't be still. He seemed to have already decided what he wanted to do, several things apparently, and those things were extremely distracting ……and now that the stench of his coat was gone, another sort of haze, not a visible one, but certainly detectable nonetheless, caused her even more problems concentrating…..
It was his maleness, enveloping her like….. like……an ooze……not a tangible one of course, that would be icky, but even so she could feel it coming from him, she could smell it, she could almost taste it. It was honey……and Tabasco……shot through with belladonna. Dangerous, oh yes…….thick, burning hot…..and sweet.
It occurred to her that her hoodlum was the exact opposite of old Lester Limehouse. OK, so his manners could use some work. And his accent rendered him almost unintelligible. And his coat needed to be decontaminated and then destroyed. And his neck had "skinhead" written on it……
But he was young, so young. So virile. She wasn't sure what perfect was, anyway. And he wanted her. She was probably old enough to be his mother, and he wanted her, anyway……..What was she waiting for?
She wrapped her arms around his neck and her legs around his waist, and urged him on. He laughed, and she knew he was laughing at her, not with her, because she wasn't laughing. Her mouth was too busy doing something else.
What they did, there on the floor in the fiction section, somewhere between Koontz and McCaffrey, resembled a passionate brawl as much as anything. There were things he wanted, beyond that to which she was accustomed, that she had never allowed before with any man. She protested once, in the beginning. He said, "Wot, you the fuckin' Queen? You too good for this?" and he didn't stop. Resistance, a futile struggle……and then his violent desire overwhelmed her.
Her years of experience in the library had certainly enriched her life in many ways, but nothing so far prepared her for this encounter, for the fierceness of his embrace, for the adrenaline rush of collision and then surrender……..total submission after brutal clash………the incredible feeling of abandon……..
Somehow, in the depths of the night, he made her want what he wanted. Sometimes she didn't like what he was doing, it didn't feel good, exactly……but she wanted it just the same. He made her want to be reckless, like him; to be strong enough to do whatever she wished, even if it wasn't something she'd ever wished for before, even if it was wrong.
And afterward, hours later, lying draped across his body---well, as much as she could, she was quite lumpy in places and that made it hard to really drape oneself effectively---she reflected on……..actually, she fell asleep almost right away, and didn't reflect on anything much till later.
He woke her up by dumping her off on the floor, and grabbing his clothes. There were sirens in front of the building, and flashing colored lights, and he yanked his clothes on in a rush, grabbing his boots.
"Wait!" Marian called. He stopped as he snatched her keys off the floor. "They'll catch you if you go that way. There's another way out."
It took a minute for her to don the minimum clothing required……her underwear was unsalvageable; her skirt and blouse were better than nothing, and that was about all you could say for them. If the police came in, she was in trouble, but she'd worry about that later.
While he waited for her, he hopped from foot to foot with the inexhaustible energy of the young and the hunted.
She led him to the back back door, a rusty exit off the storeroom that wasn't used anymore. The bushes outside had grown in front of it, a fact that was in her hoodlum's favor. They forced it open as quietly as they could, although the police were making so much noise, they could probably have opened it with a jackhammer and no one would have noticed. It didn't open all the way, even so, and as he slid his body through the slim doorway, he stopped and directed the burning intensity in those long-lashed eyes at Marian one last time. A second more in which to fix him in her memory, that was all she had.
"Yer good, fer an old sheila," he said. And the door shut behind him.
Henny looked at her with awe the next day. "You really saw him? He was here?" She shuddered. "A dangerous criminal like that here in our library. I would have fainted, probably."
"Was he scary?"
"What did you do?"
"I don't know what you mean. I didn't do anything. I hid while he was here."
"I suppose the police bought that, but they don't know you like I do," Henrietta said and laughed. "You, hiding? I wouldn't be surprised if you….."
Henny's voice trailed off as she watched Marian busily shuffling papers from one pile to another, then pushing them into one big stack, that Henny was going to have to resort.
"Marian." Henny's eyes narrowed. "Just exactly what did you do?"
"Nothing. Do you think I'm an idiot? Am I going to tempt a dangerous criminal by….by….doing something?" She took a deep breath. "Don't you have some books to catalogue, or something?"
Henny frowned. "Are you all right?"
"Of course, I'm fine. Why wouldn't I be?"
"I don't know….you just seem…."
"I'm going back in my office to finish the E-rate app," Marian said briskly. "Don't bother me unless the building catches fire."
Henny's eyebrows raised as far as they could go. "You're actually gonna do the E-rate? Are you sure you're not sick?"
"And if Lester Limehouse comes in today, tell him to go soak his head."
"Oh, no, Marian, that's not a good idea, we're coming up for evaluation soon……."
Marian scowled at Henny. "Do you think I care? In fact, he can flush himself down the toilet, for all I care. And good riddance."
Marian didn't file the E-rate grant application that day. She closed the door to her office and sat down at her desk. Propped her forehead in her hands and closed her eyes.
The newspaper was in front of her, with all the information about the young hoodlum from Australia, who he was, what he'd done. He was a criminal, brutal and cold. Not misunderstood, not remorseful, not caught up in events beyond his control, not redeemable. He was exactly who he wanted to be, doing exactly what he wanted to do. She knew she was probably lucky to be alive, "pretty tatts" or no. She shuddered. The same big hands that had held her, hurt her, pleasured her, had done other things, terrible things……..
Her appalled sensible half silently scolded her for a brainless twit, and hoped the police would shoot him down like the cur he was before he hurt anyone else.
She dosed herself with Ibuprofen for the aches where he'd bruised her, set her glasses on the end of her nose, and began studying the budgetary spread sheet, that Henny had tried to tell her was hopelessly snarled. "It looks perfectly clear to me," she muttered. "Oh….well….I suppose we did spend more than $43.00 on books. That's got to be just a mistake. What do you call a typo if you wrote it in with a pencil?"
The other half of her…… the half that wasn't concerned about sense, the part that had panted and moaned, the woman inside her who exulted when he grunted out his release…. mmmm, that part was hoping he could stay out of the hands of the police and come back to her……
In fact, she might have gone away with him if he'd asked her. Away from the elderly and the stupid and the interminable paperwork that she could never get quite right. She thought she'd have been happy to run with him, as long as they stopped at night…..well, half of her would have been happy. She was pretty sure she could have gagged the wimpy half and dragged it along easily enough.
Ha, she thought as she wadded up the E-rate papers and threw them into the trash…..it wasn't just the library that held surprises, was it?
Apparently, you just never can tell about librarians, either……..